Big Ass Spider! (2013)
Directed by Mike Mendez
Written by Gregory Gieras
Starring Greg Grunberg, Lin Shaye, Ruben Pla, Alexis Kendra, Lombardo Boyar, and Ray Wise
Titles are important. They set audience expectations of tone and content. Other factors play into it of course — trailers, posters, tie-in products — but in the end, it’s just the title listed with a time. So when I learned there was a film named Big Ass Spider! I figured it would deliver a big damn spider, a comical tone, and hopefully enough action to make up for its shortcomings. Spoiler: my guess was right.
Very few giant spider movies are actually good. There’s Tarantula, which is pretty good, then there are a handful of films just below it that are okay. Most of the rest are crap or trash, to varying degrees of enjoyment potential. (I’m talking about movies where the spider content is the main attraction, not things like Barrymore’s Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde where the spider is just neat symbolism.) So when I say that Big Ass Spider! is okay, this is to call it a giant of the genre.
So what makes it okay? For starters, there’s a lot of spider action. The plot largely focuses on one spider, misrouted from a government science lab, as it grows from big to gigantic. So we get everything from skittering through air ducts to swatting at helicopters from the top of a building. There’s even a park-based rampage, which is always fun. While the CGI could be more polished, I’d rather have a lot of entertaining spider scenes than only one spectacularly rendered one.
Another plus is the acting. Some of it, anyway. Most of the people in key roles do a good job. Ray Wise is a reliable anchor as the Major who wants to defeat the spider and save people if possible. Greg Gruberg is fine as Alex, the exterminator. It could have been played more wacky, so his low-key delivery was appreciated. Some of the others were the sort of awkward that you see a lot on SyFy originals, but that’s not too bad to accept.
The secret weapon of the film is Lombardo Boyar. He plays Jose, the hospital security guard who decides that he’s been assigned to be Alex’s partner. The role could easily have relied on unpleasant stereotypes, but Boyar makes it genuinely funny. With his deadpan expressions and mumbling delivery, he portrays a middle-aged guy who just wants to help in a crisis. A guy who just happens to have the best lines in the movie. It’s like he’s in his own movie, occasionally pulling the others in with him, but everything he does helps Alex through the movie’s events. It’s that friction between his detachment and effectiveness that makes him the center of every scene he’s in.
If you can focus on the action and the fun, it’s possible to overlook or even miss the shortcomings of Big Ass Spider!. I’ve mentioned that the effects aren’t always great, but that’s not such a big deal. The biggest problem is that little of the movie makes any sense. There’s stuff you can dismiss, like how the corpse hosting the spider got so badly misrouted. In the world of creature features, that’s a given. As Frank said about the “Easter Eggs” in The Return of the Living Dead it’s a “typical Army fuck up”. Then there’s the stuff that’s harder to ignore.
At one point, a shed exoskeleton is found. It’s from when the spider was about the size of a face-hugger. It’s a nice nod to realism, but it doesn’t work here. It takes less than a day for the spider to grow to mammoth size. Introducing molting into it just raises questions about how it did anything in that time except constantly molt and where all of the evidence of the other growth spurts went. That’s not too distracting in itself, but moments like that build up. By the time the monster had laid eggs in an area it’s too big to have fit into, I had to make the conscious effort to not care about the details.
A lot of my favorite genres require me to set a low bar for quality or forever limit myself to the rare masterpiece. As a giant spider movie, Big Ass Spider! is magnificent. The comedy mostly works, the effects are good enough, the sound is clear, and the picture quality is terrific. Most importantly, it moves briskly and delivers plenty of what it promised. So I love it, and I whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a silly monster romp. I just told a few co-workers about it, as they also enjoy ridiculous movies. It’s certainly worth a look. It’s not every day we get a monster movie that’s actually okay.